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S E C T I O N 2 Cover Story RENT, PARKING AND A LACK OF AMENITIES MAKE DOWNTOWN BUSINESS RETENTION A CHALLENGE FOR MENLO PARK STORY BY SANDY BRUNDAGE | PHOTOS BY MICHELLE LE ‘B usiness has quadrupled,” said Karla Oliveira, the proprietor of the Build It Again Lego store she opened briefly in Menlo Park last fall before packing up shop for a new location in Los Altos within months. Why? In Menlo Park, the rent cost $6,059 a month, with no parking and no storage space included. Down the road in Los Altos, she’s paying $3,900 a month. And the new location comes with more foot traffic. THE PRICE OF DOING BUSINESS Top: Left Bank restaurant staff in Menlo Park prepare tables for outdoor diners. Above: A scene on Main Street at lunchtime in downtown Los Altos. On the cover: A woman checks out the lunch menu at Bistro Vida in downtown Menlo Park. “(Los Altos) has everything here — a restaurant that kids can play in while you eat, a bakery, a hobby store, a museum, a new bookstore centered around kids,” Ms. Oliveira said. “It’s known as a mecca for people with kids.” Menlo Park, on the other hand: “There’s not enough other activities to draw kids downtown,” she said. Build It Again, thanks to classes, parties and allowing parents to drop children off, did find a crowd of regulars in Menlo Park that Ms. Oliveira misses, but that wasn’t enough to offset the difference in rent. The city doesn’t seem to have trouble attracting business: According to its latest economic report, Menlo Park’s retail vacancy rates hover around 1.3 percent, lower than San Mateo County’s average of 1.7 percent. But sometimes, as the experiences of Ms. Oliveira and other proprietors demonstrate, keeping business can be a bigger challenge. During the past year, Lisa’s Tea Treasures and Pendleton Woolen Mills also relocated to Los Altos. The iBar eyebrow-threading business moved to Palo Alto. While the restaurants Refuge and Borrone MarketBar opened, Menlo Hub shut down. Menlo Park has seen its retail vacancy rate drop a lot in the last year, pointed out Jim Cogan, the city’s Economic Development Manager, but there’s a lack of data on retention. Individual business models play a role in differentiating retailers that leave from ones, such as Cheeky Monkey and Flegel’s Home Furnishings, that stay. “Our rents are high — not as high as Palo Alto or the Stanford Shopping Center, but up around $5 per square foot per month,” Mr. Cogan said. “That can be a tough nut to cover for a lot of retail.” Some of the newer retailers, for example, Menlo Hardwood, told Mr. Cogan that they love the market, but aren’t convinced there’s enough foot traffic downtown to support them. Amenities The retention challenge isn’t limited to retail. Menlo Park’s office space vacancy rate — 10.9 percent See page 27 June 4, 2014 NTheAlmanacOnline.comNThe AlmanacN25

Almanac June 4, 2014 section2

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